Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a common viral illness. It occurs mainly in children younger than 10 years of age, but adolescents and adults may also get it. This disease is different than foot and mouth disease that cattle, sheep, and pigs get. Most people are better in 1 week.

CAUSES

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is usually caused by a group of viruses called enteroviruses. Hand, foot, and mouth disease can spread from person to person (contagious). A person is most contagious during the first week of the illness. It is not transmitted to or from pets or other animals. It is most common in the summer and early fall. Infection is spread from person to person by direct contact with an infected person's:

  • Nose discharge.

  • Throat discharge.

  • Stool.

SYMPTOMS

Open sores (ulcers) occur in the mouth. Symptoms may also include:

  • A rash on the hands and feet, and occasionally the buttocks.

  • Fever.

  • Aches.

  • Pain from the mouth ulcers.

  • Fussiness.

DIAGNOSIS

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is one of many infections that cause mouth sores. To be certain your child has hand, foot, and mouth disease your caregiver will diagnose your child by physical exam. Additional tests are not usually needed.

TREATMENT

Nearly all patients recover without medical treatment in 7 to 10 days. There are no common complications. Your child should only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines for pain, discomfort, or fever as directed by your caregiver. Your caregiver may recommend the use of an over-the-counter antacid or a combination of an antacid and diphenhydramine to help coat the lesions in the mouth and improve symptoms.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Try combinations of foods to see what your child will tolerate and aim for a balanced diet. Soft foods may be easier to swallow. The mouth sores from hand, foot, and mouth disease typically hurt and are painful when exposed to salty, spicy, or acidic food or drinks.

  • Milk and cold drinks are soothing for some patients. Milk shakes, frozen ice pops, slushies, and sherberts are usually well tolerated.

  • Sport drinks are good choices for hydration, and they also provide a few calories. Often, a child with hand, foot, and mouth disease will be able to drink without discomfort.  

  • For younger children and infants, feeding with a cup, spoon, or syringe may be less painful than drinking through the nipple of a bottle.

  • Keep children out of childcare programs, schools, or other group settings during the first few days of the illness or until they are without fever. The sores on the body are not contagious.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Your child develops signs of dehydration such as:

  • Decreased urination.

  • Dry mouth, tongue, or lips.

  • Decreased tears or sunken eyes.

  • Dry skin.

  • Rapid breathing.

  • Fussy behavior.

  • Poor color or pale skin.

  • Fingertips taking longer than 2 seconds to turn pink after a gentle squeeze.

  • Rapid weight loss.

  • Your child does not have adequate pain relief.

  • Your child develops a severe headache, stiff neck, or change in behavior.

  • Your child develops ulcers or blisters that occur on the lips or outside of the mouth.